Electron microscopic visualization of single molecules by tag-mediated metal particle labeling

Microscopy (Oxf). 2022 Feb 18;71(Supplement_1):i72-i80. doi: 10.1093/jmicro/dfab048.


Genetically encoded tags have introduced extensive lines of application from purification of tagged proteins to their visualization at the single molecular, cellular, histological and whole-body levels. Combined with other rapidly developing technologies such as clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) system, proteomics, super-resolution microscopy and proximity labeling, a large variety of genetically encoded tags have been developed in the last two decades. In this review, I focus on the current status of tag development for electron microscopic (EM) visualization of proteins with metal particle labeling. Compared with conventional immunoelectron microscopy using gold particles, tag-mediated metal particle labeling has several advantages that could potentially improve the sensitivity, spatial and temporal resolution, and applicability to a wide range of proteins of interest (POIs). It may enable researchers to detect single molecules in situ, allowing the quantitative measurement of absolute numbers and exact localization patterns of POI in the ultrastructural context. Thus, genetically encoded tags for EM could revolutionize the field as green fluorescence protein did for light microscopy, although we still have many challenges to overcome before reaching this goal.

Keywords: chemical probe; electron microscopy; freeze-fracture replica; gene-encoded tag; metal particle; single molecule quantitation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electrons*
  • Gold*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Gold